Four months into his job as CEO of Sutter Health, Warner Thomas has identified what he wants to accomplish during his first year leading the Northern California nonprofit health system, and plans to borrow some ideas from his time at Ochsner Health.
Thomas started his role at the integrated 23-hospital system based in Sacramento in December, after a 10-year stint as New Orleans-based Ochsner’s CEO. Easing Sutter’s staffing and capacity constrains are among his top initiatives, he said in an interview.
In 2020, Ochsner and Loyola University New Orleans partnered to launch a pre-licensure undergraduate nursing program. The next year, Ochsner teamed up with Delgado Community College to help train more nurses.
Sutter will look to similar affiliations with Northern California academic institutions to shore up Sutter's workforce, Thomas said.
“We can’t pay our way out of the healthcare challenges we face today, we have to train and educate our way out,” he said. “We have a unique opportunity in our market here to build tight partnerships with academic institutions to make sure we are training and educating the next generation of the healthcare workforce.”
Thomas also touched on expanding Sutter's remote monitoring capabilities, expanding its outpatient footprint, establishing relationships with policymakers and Here's what's on Thomas' to-do list.
Expand remote monitoring
The health system must build out its remote monitoring infrastructure and capacity, including its electronic intensive care unit program, to free up space in its hospitals and ambulatory clinics, many of which are full, Thomas said. Sutter already has hospitals and ambulatory clinic expansions in the works, but a more concerted effort on outpatient growth is on the horizon, Thomas said. “We will look to build our digital partnerships and provide innovative technology to our patients. That is one of the reasons I came to Sutter,” said Thomas, noting its proximity to Silicon Valley.
Increase training opportunities
Sutter, which trains about 200 residents and fellows a year, plans to double that number over the next year, Thomas said. Sutter operates in one of the highest-wage markets in the country, so the system will have to differentiate itself in its workplace culture, he added.
Rapport with regulators
Sutter has invested nearly $10 billion over the past decade in earthquake safety measures, amid a looming 2030 deadline for meeting a California law designed to keep hospitals fully operational after earthquakes. By 2020, in most cases, the state required hospitals to either upgrade their existing buildings to withstand an earthquake or replace them. “My concern is that a lot of hospitals will not be able to meet the 2030 requirements,” Thomas said.
Thomas hopes to create a strong relationship with state and federal policymakers to have candid conversations about regulations like the seismic retrofit standards and how they affect providers, he said.
Bolster community hospitals
Sutter had to turn away thousands of patients last year because it was at capacity, Thomas said. The health system should continue to delegate resources to its community hospitals to help them treat low-acuity patients, he said.